5 things to know about Georgia’s run to NIT Final Four

Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) attempts a shot against Xavier forward Abou Ousmane (24) during the first half in the first round of the NCAA’s NIT at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) attempts a shot against Xavier forward Abou Ousmane (24) during the first half in the first round of the NCAA’s NIT at Stegeman Coliseum, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS — The NIT Final Four is set.

Georgia learned late Wednesday night that its opponent in the semifinals will be Seton Hall. The Pirates (23-12, 13-7 Big East), the No. 1 seed from the “Upper Left” bracket, defeated UNLV 91-68 to advance to Indianapolis. They will face the Bulldogs (20-16, 6-12 SEC) in the second game of the NIT semifinals at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN) at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University.

Indiana State (31-6, 17-3 Missouri Valley Conference) will take on Utah (22-14, 9-11 Pac-12) in the other semifinal, at 7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN).

Here are five things to know about the Bulldogs’ deep run into the 2024 NIT:

Georgia’s NIT history

The Bulldogs have gone far in the NIT before, but it has been a while. This is their first trip to semifinals since 1998 and third overall. Led by freshman Jumaine Jones and senior Ray Harrison, the 1998 team lost to Penn State 66-60 at Madison Square Garden in New York. They defeated Fresno State 95-79 in the consolation game to finish third that year.

The 1982 team also made it to Madison Square Garden. Led by Dominique Wilkins, who would turn pro after the season, they lost to Purdue 61-60. The core of that team, including James Banks, Terry Fair, Vern Fleming and Lamar Heard, would reach the NCAA Final Four the following season.

With its 79-77 win over Ohio State in Columbus on Tuesday, Georgia improved to 3-0 in this year’s NIT and 16-14 overall in a total of 15 tournaments. The Bulldogs never have won the NIT championship.

Hello, Seton Hall!

Like Ohio State, Georgia’s quarterfinals opponent, playing Seton Hall is a rarity for the program. Tuesday night’s tilt will be only the third in history.

The Bulldogs and Pirates agreed to a home-and-home, non-conference arrangement in 2014 and ‘15 under Georgia coach Mark Fox. The Bulldogs won 64-47 on Dec. 21, 2014, in Athens and lost 69-62 on Nov. 28, 2015, the following season.

The Pirates defeated Saint Joseph’s (75-72, OT), defending NIT champion North Texas (72-58) and UNLV (91-68) on the way to Tuesday’s semifinal. All of the games were played at the Prudential Center, Seton Hall’s home court in Newark, New Jersey, where it is 17-3 this season. The Pirates are 5-7 away and 1-2 at neutral sites.

The Pirates are under the direction of second-year coach Shaheen Holloway (40-28). A Seton Hall player from 1996-2000, he returned to his alma mater after leading Saint Peter’s on a run to the NCAA’s Elite Eight in 2022.

The Pirates finished fourth in the Big East this year but lost to St. Johns in the first round of the Big East Tournament. They’re a veteran-laden team, led by 6-foot-6 wing Kadary Richmond (15.6 ppg/6.7 rpg/5.1 apg), three other seniors and 6-10, 240-pound center Jaden Biako.

Georgia and Seton Hall have three common opponents: Missouri, Xavier and Providence. The Bulldogs beat Missouri twice, 75-68 on Jan. 6 in Columbia, Missouri, and 64-59 in the opening round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 13. The Pirates defeated the Tigers 93-87 on Dec. 17 in Newark.

Georgia defeated Xavier 78-76 in Athens in the opening round of the NIT. The Pirates played the Musketeers twice as part of the Big East schedule, losing in Cincinnati 74-54 on Dec. 17 and winning in New Jersey 88-70 on Feb. 14.

Seton Hall lost to Providence at home 67-63 on Jan. 24 and won at Providence 61-57 three weeks earlier. Georgia lost to the Friars 71-64 in the Baha Mar tournament in the Bahamas on Nov. 19.

Road warriors

Both Georgia and Seton Hall are pretty good road teams.

The Bulldogs are 6-6 in true road games this season but not quite as good in neutral-site games (1-4). Georgia also lost to Miami in the Bahamas event and to Oregon in the 82-81 in the first game of the season in Naismith Hall of Fame series in Las Vegas.

Some of the Bulldogs’ more impressive works have been on opposing teams’ home floors. They beat Wake Forest (72-66) and Ohio State (79-77) during this NIT run, beat South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt in conference play and scored an impressive road win over Florida State in Tallahassee 68-66 in the seventh game of the season.

Meanwhile, Georgia narrowly lost a few others, losing one-possession decisions to Arkansas (78-75) and LSU (68-66) and losing to Florida in overtime 102-98 on Jan. 27 in Gainesville.

The Pirates are 5-7 on the road and actually have won at Hinkle Fieldhouse. They beat Butler there 78-72 on Jan. 13. They also beat St. John’s in New York (68-62) on Feb. 18. Seton Hall is 1-3 in neutral-site games, beating Missouri in Kansas City but losing to Southern Cal (71-63) and Iowa (85-72) in the Rady Children’s Invitational in San Diego and to St. John’s (91-72) in the Big East tourney.

Playing hurt

Georgia has made its run without several key players in the lineup. Most notably, Russel Tchewa, the 7-foot, 280-pound graduate center, missed the Wake Forest game Sunday in the NIT second round and played only five minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday because of an illness. He finished with one rebound against the Buckeyes.

Tchewa has started 34 games and averages 7.6 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing 25.1 minutes per game. Indications are he’ll be ready to go in Indy.

The Bulldogs also have been without 27-game starter Jabri Abdur-Rahim since March 5 because of a sprained ankle. His status is unknown, but there are indications that the 6-8 senior small forward, the team’s second-leading scorer (12.2 ppg) and free-throw shooter (.887) might have shut it down for the season.

Georgia also has been playing without graduate transfer forward RJ “Sunny” Sunahara. His injury status is unclear, but the 6-8, 11-game starter has been struggling with a knee injury he sustained in practice shortly before the season started.

How ‘bout that bench?

Probably the most distinguishing characteristic of Georgia’s team is its bench. The Bulldogs’ reserves have outscored their opponents’ backups in 29 of 36 games this season. That includes 22-17 in the latest outing against Ohio State and 23-2 when they beat Wake Forest.

For the season, Georgia ranks 21st nationally in bench scoring (28.4 ppg) and boasts a margin of plus-372 points, or 10.3 per game. The Bulldogs feature 12 players that average 8.5 minutes per game or better. By comparison, Seton Hall has eight such players, with four starters averaging 32 minutes or more per game.

While it was Justin Hill (21 points) against the Demon Deacons, it was senior center Frank Anselem-Ibe that came through the Bulldogs in the win over the Buckeyes. The 6-10, 215-pound senior from Nigeria – who attended Westlake High one year – recorded 10 points and 10 rebounds in the 79-77 victory.

Anselem-Ibe’s performance placed him among Georgia basketball royalty when it comes to those who have recorded “double-doubles” in the NIT. They include Dominique Wilkins, who did it three times, Terry Fair, Charles Claxton, Shandon Anderson, Jumaine Jones and Yante Maten.